By Candace Anderson, Contra Costa County Supervisor
Homelessness continues to be a serious issue across California and other parts of the country. In response, Contra Costa County provides connections to services for those in need in our community. As a result of our efforts, homelessness in Contra Costa County has declined over the past five years but significant needs still exist and we are increasing our efforts with community and faith based programs to help those in need.
The Contra Costa Homeless Continuum of Care (CoC) is participating in the design of a Coordinated Entry System (CES) to ensure that homeless individuals, and those at-risk of homelessness, receive the most appropriate services and support to meet their housing needs. It is a collaboration of community based organizations, government, and faith-based organizations that provide services ranging from prevention to permanent housing placements. Homeless individuals are linked to the support needed to obtain and sustain housing. They can access the system by calling 211, going to one of our Coordinated Assessment and Resource (CARE) Centers, or through our Coordinated Outreach Referral and Engagement (CORE) teams.
The 211 information line, operated by the Contra Costa Crisis Center, provides a phone portal for individuals and families needing to connect to a variety of services. Ideally, callers who dial 211 are at risk for being unsheltered or are “literally homeless.” The line is open 24/7 for all those in need and has been taken advantage more readily over the past five years. 211 is in the process of implementing Prevention and Diversion Screening and Referral services, and this month will begin a centralized reservation system for direct placement into emergency shelters. The county has implemented the Identification, Assessment, and Prioritization (IAP) process as a three-step process to reach eventual permanent housing.
Our CORE outreach teams have begun to engage and stabilize homeless individuals living outside and are helping to facilitate and deliver health and basic needs services, and locate permanent housing. Evening CORE teams can provide direct placement into shelter beds.
CORE teams establish relationships with clients through regular communication and visits to camps and shelters, and serve as a point of contact for many social services. A 2017 Point in Time count, conducted on January 25, 2017, identified 1,607 county residents who were homeless. 911 of those were unsheltered, living in cars, encampments, abandoned buildings or parks that one night.
CARE Centers located in San Pablo, Concord, and Walnut Creek provide a walk-in option for individuals and families who need to connect to a variety of services. Services offered at CARE centers include help with basic needs, light case management, housing navigation services, and connections to substance abuse treatment.The Concord CARE Center also serves as an after-hours Warming Center to offer much needed support in a safe environment overnight. CORE teams and law enforcement are able to make warming center placements.
Most Contra Costa cities rely on their police departments to manage homelessness, leading to a drain on public safety resources as officers repeatedly respond to complaints about public disturbances, theft and panhandling; often involving the same few people. Those booked for infractions such as public intoxication or disorderly conduct remain in jail longer than a night. They are often released a few hours after booking at Martinez Detention Facility. Thus, they cycle through our criminal justice system.
To help alleviate the impact on their police departments, Martinez and Pleasant Hill will soon share a full-time outreach team to connect with homeless residents as part of a new Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) plan to more efficiently deliver services to the county’s homeless community. The cities agreed to fund the cost of a two-member team of CCHS outreach workers who will operate 40 hours a week within their boundaries.
Additionally, Health, Housing, and Homeless (H3) has created the “Built for Zero Campaign,” which focuses on eradicating homelessness for veterans. Contra Costa became one of the first counties to create a “by-name,” list of homeless veterans, which is being recognized as the national standard to achieve a better picture of those who are truly in need of our support. In fact, due to our county’s efforts, there has been a 31% decrease in Veteran homelessness in Contra Costa County. We all hope this trend continues in the future and will spread to all demographics of homelessness, as well.
There is no one single solution to eradicating homelessness in our county. Through these programs the County has implemented, and in cooperation with our cities and many faith based and non-profit organizations, I am hopeful that we can make a difference in the lives of individuals who find themselves living on the street. Together, we can combat this issue and help provide for those in need.
If you wish to donate to help save someone’s life, please visit cchealth.org/h3/coc/donate.php. For more information about Homeless Services in Contra Costa County and how you can help, go to cchealth.org/homeless.
My office is here to serve the residents of Contra Costa County District 2, which includes San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Walnut Creek, Saranap, Parkmead, Lafayette, Moraga, Canyon and Orinda. Please don't hesitate to contact us if we can provide you with additional information on this topic or on other County issues. I can be reached at [email protected] or 925-957-8860
A Special Thanks to Summer intern Rahul Arockiaraj for his contributions to this article.